Five Questions with Faranak Miraftab

Migration has become a major issue for countries around the world.

It’s also been a major news story as Europeans struggle to accommodate refugees crossing the Mediterranean while south Asian nations and Australia decide the fate of refugees from Myanmar trapped in a boat between countries.

Migration spurred by labor needs and economic mobility are at the heart of the work of Framing the Global Fellow Faranak Miraftab.

Miraftab is professor of Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. Miraftab has published widely on the topics of immigration and global urban spaces. She recently co-edited the Cities of the Global South Reader as well as Cities and Inequalities in a Global and Neoliberal World coming out this year.

For Framing the Global Miraftab has written the book Global Heartland: Displaced Labor, Transnational Lives, and Local Placemaking due out next year from Indiana University Press.

Miraftab spoke with Rosemary Pennington about the importance of framing in her work on “displacement.”

Rosemary Pennington: What drew you to Framing the Global?

Faranak Miraftab: How we frame a phenomenon is key to what we see and what we leave out; what we reveal and what we obscure; what we place at the center and what we place at the margin or outside the frame. So for me the Framing the Global project raises a question fundamental to ethics, responsibilities and methodologies of globalization scholars.

I stress a relational framing where one looks at a phenomenon from different vantage points, positioning the subject within multiple frames and seeking to understand the phenomenon through the relationships among and across these frames of reference. To understand a phenomenon in its full complexity one needs to examine and explain the phenomenon not through a static position and frame of reference but from different vantage points and through distinct frames of reference.

Like Achebe writes in Arrow of Gods, “The world is like a Mask dancing. If you want to see it well you do not stand in one place.”

RP: What is your entry point and why did you choose it?


Sign advertising a weekend camp in Germany focused on helping people understand the intricacies of immigrating. Image via Rasand Tyskar. (Flickr Creative Commons).

FM: My entry point in the Global Framing volume is “Displacement.” I chose displacement because it offers a clear example of how our framing matters and why we need a relational approach and theorization.

What within one frame would be represented as migration, suggesting a voluntary movement of people across localities within and across national borders; within another frame is represented as displacement –involuntary movement of people from one location to another forced by social, economic, political, cultural or environmental causes.

RP: What challenges have you faced as you’ve navigated the global this way?

FM: The main challenge for me in relational framing is complexity of multi-sited and inter-scalar analysis. Namely, the challenge in weaving together the political, economic, and ethnographic analyses at various sites and multiple scales.  A relational framing is methodologically sound, but also complex.

RP: In her introduction to the upcoming book, Dr. Hilary Kahn writes that one of the questions scholars of the global are faced with is “How do we know its global?” How do you answer that question in your work?

FM: Labor mobility is a global reality, meaning that people move in search of work all over the world from point A to B sometimes within, other times across, national borders. But global mobility of workers cannot be understood as a singular or unitary process or experience.

How these movements of populations are produced, negotiated, and reproduced and the kind of dynamics, processes and practices they entail are distinct within different temporal and spatial points of reference. While conventional and popular rhetoric of “the global” to a certain degree suggests a unitary phenomenon, my interest and quest is to find and demonstrate the multiplicities of the phenomenon depending on points of vantage and modes of framing.

Through a relational framing one highlights zigzags of relationships at work in micro-macro levels, within and across national boundaries.

RP: How have your discussions on the space of global studies within the Framing the Global interdisciplinary group affected your view of your home discipline?

FM: My participation in Framing the Global has confirmed my commitment to transnational planning scholarship as an approach that takes seriously the ethics of planning and its role in global justice by overcoming the methodological nationalism of an earlier genre of planning scholarship and the post national methodologies of the more recent so called global planning research.

You can find the Q&A’s with the rest of our Fellows on our blog.

You can follow us on Twitter: @FramingGlobal.